Senate Dems press for GOP support for UN disabled rights treaty

Senate Democrats on Monday launched a last-minute effort to salvage a United Nations treaty on the rights of people with disabilities ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Flanked by military veterans as well as blind and wheelchair-bound advocates, several Democratic leaders and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Tea Party-fueled objections to the treaty “mythologies.” 

Supporters of the treaty might be a few votes short of winning the 67 votes needed for passage. 

Sixty-one senators last week voted to proceed to the treaty, meaning supporters need to convince a handful of Republicans to vote for the agreement in order to reach the needed two-thirds majority threshold.

“There's still a process going on” to try to win over Republicans, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said. “And this is part of it.”

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Senators speaking alongside Kerry at Monday's press conference disputed Tea Party assertions that the treaty could affect abortion rights or Americans' ability to home-school their children. They said the treaty calls for the creation of a panel that can only make nonbinding recommendations to countries and cannot serve as the basis for lawsuits in U.S. state or federal court.

“This is about Americans and raising the standards of how we treat Americans around the world,” Kerry said.

The treaty was negotiated under former President George W. Bush and signed by President Obama in July 2009.

Proponents say the treaty merely extends the rights embodied under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act to other countries. McCain called passage of the treaty an “expansion of the American example and the American ideal around the world.”

Opposition to the treaty is being led by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), along with the conservative Heritage Foundation. The think-tank says the treaty would impinge on U.S. sovereignty.

Heritage also sent out an action alert Monday to remind Republican senators that 36 of them signed onto a pledge in September vowing to oppose any treaty brought up during the lame-duck session of Congress, calling it an “inappropriate” time to pass treaties.

Kerry countered that argument by saying the Senate has passed treaties 19 times during lame-duck sessions. He said the sitting senators, who “did all the work” sitting in on the committee's markup of the treaty this summer, should be the ones to vote on it.